The greatest tribute to a former player is the immense adulation he receives long after retiring from the game. The crowd that had gathered at the Kolkata airport at 2 in the morning came as quite a shock to me, and to say that I was completely overwhelmed would be an understatement.
Kolkata is considered the home of Indian football, with an unrelenting passion for the sport that is partially comparable to the ardent fervour of fans in South America. India is one country that I have always wanted to visit, and the tireless efforts of the West Bengal government, and their excellent planning made this visit possible.
India has been an enigma on the world football stage, as it baffles many that a country of close to 1.2 billion people does not feature on the world football map. It would also surprise many that India has an impressive football history, as three professional football clubs in Kolkata have been in existence long before FIFA was formed.
I had a packed schedule in Kolkata, and the love of the people at my official felicitation is something I will always cherish for a long time to come. The football crazy city of Kolkata seemed to be extremely knowledgeable about the sport, and I must confess that they knew more about my football exploits than I would have ever imagined. When the young boy touched my feet on the podium, it left a lump in my throat and it's a gesture that my family and I will never forget.
There are few stadiums in world football that accommodate over a 100 000 people, and when I entered the Salt Lake in Kolkata for the exhibition game, the pulsating sound of 120 000 fans was unbelievable to say the least. As I glanced across the stands, I was amazed to see people sitting on the ledges and the roofs, clearly underlining the passion for the sport. The ovation and the cheers that greeted a few of my football tricks reminded me of the deafening noises in Argentina when Boca Juniors took the field.
It's great that a top corporate house like McDowell's are doing their bit for football in Kolkata, with constant financial support and partnerships, which are crucial for the development of the game. McDowell's No.1 Celebration's association with Mohan Bagan, and their wonderful initiative with the Futsal Friendzy is bound to aid football in an already passionate environment. As more top corporate houses come forward to support the game, Indian football will only get stronger.
I felt extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity of visiting Mother Teresa's Ashram and meeting all her disciples, who are playing an important role in society.
I will surely be back in India, and will continue to contribute to the development of football in every possible way. The soccer school I inaugurated will be a great incentive for more kids to play football, and I hope to see some more budding talent when I return to Kolkata. 'Dhonnobad', Kolkata!
Professional Management Group